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Christa Wüthrich is an independant journalist. She has worked as an author, teacher and IKRK delegate nationally as well as internationally.

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Cosmetics as development aid

Cosmetics as development aid

In the capital Ouagadougou, girls from the poorest families are trained to work as beauticians and makeup artists. They are thus able to take the step and lead an independent life.

Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) is regarded as one of the film capitals of the African continent. Films are made here and the international FESPACO film festival takes place here every two years. Until now, the makeup artists for film productions have been flown in from abroad. Burkina Faso itself didn’t have any trained makeup professionals. Safi Ouattara Diallo, owner of Ouagadougou’s tailoring school NAS Mode, made it her goal to close this market gap. “Fashion and cosmetics complement each other perfectly,” she says. “I wanted to expand my tailoring school by adding cosmetics and makeup. But there weren’t any makeup artists anywhere in the country who could have trained the students.”

In order to realize a joint training project for cosmetics and makeup, the two women recently founded the company “NAS Mode Esthétique.”

So Safi, who was 40 at the time, asked Swisscontact for help. Swisscontact is a development organization run by the Swiss private sector, which sends professional experts from all over the world to facilitate training courses in Eastern Europe and developing countries. In Fall 2008, Bea Petri, a Swiss makeup artist from Zurich, traveled to Ouagadougou on a four-week assignment for Swisscontact – with a suitcase full of supplies and with no idea of what to expect. “The students hardly had any basic knowledge,” she recalls. “So the focus wasn’t on training them to be makeup artists, but on simple cosmetic procedures: facial care, makeup and manicures.” But as the four weeks passed, the students developed an enormous willingness to learn; and not only that, Bea Petri and Safi Ouattara Diallo became very good friends. In order to realize a joint training project for cosmetics and makeup, the two women recently founded the company “NAS Mode Esthétique.”

Since 2008, Bea Petri has been traveling to Ouagadougou for a couple of weeks each year to take care of the education and training of the teachers and students. The best students in the class are also trained to work as make-up artists. In return, Safi Ouattara Diallo spends one month in Switzerland every spring to discover the latest cosmetic and makeup trends in her business partner’s “makeup bar” in Zurich.

“I never would have dreamed of doing an apprenticeship in the capital. It’s like being reborn.”

For about a dozen girls from poor families who don’t have easy access to education, the school costs are covered by the “Förderverein NAS Mode,” an association to support NAS Mode, which was founded by Bea Petri in Switzerland. “I never would have dreamed of doing an apprenticeship in the capital,” recalls Evrad Nadège, one of the Burkinabé students receiving financial support. “It’s like being reborn.” Until 2010, Evrad, who was 19 at the time, lived in a small village about 45 kilometers from the capital. There is no electricity. Toilets are a rare commodity.


Bea Petri at work.

In Burkina Faso, there is only one toilet for about every one hundred people in rural areas. For fresh drinking water, the women march an hour to the nearest well. The people only eat one meal per day. The grain fields the families cultivate do not produce more. Nevertheless, Evrad is one of the lucky kids in the village. Until fifth grade, she attended school, making her one of the few people in this country who can read and write. About 70 percent of adult Burkinabés are illiterate. Shortly before her 18th birthday, Evrad began working as a “maid” for a distant relative in the capital Ouagadougou. She was too old for school. There wasn’t any money to do an apprenticeship. Thanks to the “Förderverein NAS Mode,” the young woman completed her education as a beautician and today runs her own studio.

Many women use creams that contain mercury to lighten their skin. The products are dangerous and lead to destroyed, scarred skin.

About 80% of graduates from NAS Mode find a job after the two-year beauty apprenticeship. Many become freelancers – a situation that is rare in Burkina Faso. About 70 percent of the working population is unemployed. More than half of the country’s 15 million people live below the poverty line.


Learning to become a beauty expert.

The first two makeup artists trained by the school work for the national television station, where they do the moderators’ makeup. The station does not pay any wages, but broadcasts commercials for the school. Nowadays, in addition to the journalists, clients include bridal couples, models, kids at makeup parties, and rich Burkinabés, who attach particular importance to their appearance. A facial treatment costs CFA 5,000 (about €7.60). Getting your makeup done costs CFA 2000 (€3). Anyone who thinks that the training program strictly focuses on applying cosmetics is wrong. Service, product knowledge and consulting are other areas covered by the apprenticeship. “Many women use creams that contain mercury to lighten their skin. The products are dangerous and lead to destroyed, scarred skin. Here, it is crucial for both the students and the customers to have the right information,” points out makeup professional Bea Petri.

What are the benefits of eye shadow and blush when people don’t have food or work?

However, the two women’s training project also raises questions and criticism. What are the benefits of eye shadow and blush when people don’t have food or work? Wouldn’t it be better to use the money for a down-to-earth project with proven results? Because beauty alone doesn’t fill a tummy. “With its film and show productions, experts in makeup and cosmetics, and also in styling and costume design are in demand in Ouagadougou. And we fulfill exactly this need,” insist the two entrepreneurs.
In 2013, the two businesswomen replaced the small classrooms of the cosmetic and tailoring school with a newly built, modern training center and boarding school. Today, this is where 210 young locals are completing apprenticeships to work as seamstresses and beauticians.
In addition, Petri & Diallo employs fifteen teachers, cooks, childcare staff for the daycare facility, and even a “substitute mother” who looks after the young women. Recently, Bea Petri also started awarding microcredits. The commitment of the two women is not only respected in Ouagadougou, but also on the national and international level: In Switzerland, Petri won the development prize of the canton of Schaffhausen, and in Burkina Faso, she was recognized with honors for her project.


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